Reader AD sends us this:
When Norway introduced tough new laws back at the beginning of 2004 aimed at increasing the number of women on company boards, the naysayers said it would lead to disaster. Companies would be forced to appoint less-qualified people as board members just because of their gender, and there would be widespread resentment among male colleagues and business owners…When politicians proposed the measure in Norway, it sparked a massive public debate — with opponents saying that such positive discrimination would be unfair to men and that private companies should be given the freedom to appoint whichever candidates they preferred to their boards. Another common argument held that more competent men would be replaced with less skilled or qualified women.
Yet since the law was introduced there have been no complaints from employers associations, nor have CEOs stated that they have had problems finding suitable candidates for the board. “It is surprising because when the quota was introduced it created a lot of debate, especially from people in the business sector, who were critical of the reform,” Storvik says. “But after the reform went into force almost nobody seemed to object, hardly anybody is writing about it in the newspapers any more or telling us about negative experiences.”
The fact that a broad spectrum of political parties, including the conservatives, supported the measure helped lay the groundwork for broad public acceptance. But it also helped that Norwegians are already used to the idea of quotas in areas like politics.
So has the quota legislation had a trickle-down effect that goes beyond the board rooms and into the wider economy? “There is an increase in women in other management positions both in the firms which were targeted by the reform, but also in other firms that were not,” says Storvik. “But it is impossible to say if this has been caused by the reform.” The law only affects the major companies listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange and is not extended to private small- and medium-sized firms…The authors also argue that, left to their own devices, companies will do little diiversify the gender composition of their boards. When the law in Norway was first implemented it stated that the sanctions would not come into effect if companies raised the number of female board members to the demanded level. This did not happen. By 2006, the percentage had only increased to 18 percent.
After a grace period, tough sanctions went into force for non-compliance — the most drastic of which was the dissolution of the company. Businesses got the message and soon began appointing women as board members. By 2009, the 40 percent target had been achieved.
The fact that the increases in companies were only modest when they were given the chance to do so voluntarily, says Storvik, would imply “that it was very important that the law was made mandatory.
AD wonders if philosophy should take this as its model. That idea makes me uncomfortable, but others will feel differently. (And yes, I realise that “makes me uncomfortable” isn’t an argument.)